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New NFPA Symposium Announced! - NFPA will hold a symposium titled "Prion Inactivation - Current Technology and Future Research Needs," on April 1, 2004 in Washington, D.C.
Registration Form - PDF File: http://www.nfpa-food.org/documents/PrionRegForm.pdf
Prion Inactivation ?Current Technology and Future Research Needs Symposium
Mad Socialism Disease
by Christopher Westley
There are roughly 35 million cattle slaughtered each year in the United States. This means that, in 2003, one in 35 million U.S. cattle were confirmed to have mad cow disease. Infected cattle comprised three millionths of one percent of all cattle, or 0.000003%.
So why the mad cow scare?
In one sense, the scare is legitimate. It reflects an implicit consensus among the body politic that the federal overseers of the U.S. beef industry are not capable of stopping the spread of mad cow once the slightest hint of the disease shows itself on U.S. soil. Given the State's performance in so many other spheres of life—defending the nation from attack on 9/11, managing the space shuttle program, not to mention delivering the mail perhaps this perception is not as entirely outlandish as it seems at first glance.
But more likely, the scare was blown way out of proportion by those in and out of the federal government who stand to benefit from the continued socialization of U.S. agriculture. Since the mad cow story knocked Michael Jackson from the front pages, it would appear they did a pretty good job.
But they did so at great costs to the economy. Overnight, the scare collapsed the beef export business, eliminated trade between barns and feed lots, reduced the market value of all forms of slaughtered animals, and devastated meat processing plants which have been forced to facilitate furloughs that were unanticipated as recently as three weeks ago. As a result, $200 million worth of meat and meat products remain in refrigeration purgatory within the U.S. and abroad.
These events resulted from one cow and an easily cowed public that accepts on face value the existence of a crisis that is repeated ad infinitum by the ratings-starved yellow journalists at CNN and Fox.
No one doubts that mad cow disease can be deadly. That 145 people died in Britain over several years from consuming infected beef is well known, a figure that, however tragic for the individuals involved, must be compared to the 60 million who likely consumed infected beef. What is less well known is that the British government offered to reimburse farmers for cattle lost to the disease—thus removing any incentive to deal with mad cow in a responsible manner. The moral hazard problems that resulted caused mad cow to spread well beyond what it otherwise would if market forces were allowed to respond to it.
Moral hazard is the creation of perverse incentives in response to public or private policies. It is, for example, a constant concern of the insurance industry. Since insurance companies know that their costs increase whenever their premiums are too low (such as when cheap automobile insurance increases the incentive to drive recklessly), they constantly monitor their costs and prices to keep moral hazard problems to a minimum. If they don't, the increased costs directly affect their profits.
This result is expected when property rights are well defined. There is a huge difference, however, when moral hazard results from government funding and regulation, which happens in the cattle industry when farmers divert resources from satisfying consumers toward satisfying (and influencing) regulators. When this occurs, property rights are weakened because the State dictates its use, often in exchange for legal protection for those who hold title to the regulated property. (Note that no one has considered the possibility of suing the farm that marketed the beef from the infected cow because it acted in compliance with existing USDA regulations.)
In the public sphere, the costs created can be socialized across the entire economy. The bureaucrats implementing moral hazard-creating policies are rarely held in any way responsible for the adverse affects of the policies, especially in terms of income, quality of life, or employment.
Good work ?if you can force others to fund it. Just ask any U.S. Department of Agriculture grant recipient at the nearest land-grant university.
But the moral hazard effects do not end there. The USDA's protected workforce has additional perverse incentives to exacerbate the dangers inherent in everyday life, because spreading the myth of a hazardous world is essential to expanding the power, perks, and prestige that flow with additional funding. When viewed in this light, December's mad cow scare, based on a single cow that apparently was infected in Canada, was a Christmas present to those feeding at the USDA's funding trough. They can rest easily, knowing that the wealth transfers in the next farm bill will continue apace.
Table 1: USDA Budget Authority, 2002-2006 (in billions)
Source: Office of Management and Budget, Budget of the U.S. Government, FY 2004.
Only in the public sector can such schemes persist. If a private regulatory agency performed as badly as the USDA, it would go broke. Producers or consumers who demand regulation so as to allow the long-term success and safety of the market would insist on changes. Such automatic feedback mechanisms are one of the primary reasons why markets perform so much better than public sector bureaucracies. Suppliers of regulation that did not adjust would then be weeded out of the market.
This process explains the vast majority of the economic development of the United States. To argue otherwise is to ignore the spontaneous evolution of private regulation that enables trades in venues such as eBay or Amazon.com. To argue otherwise is to be blinded by the role played by Underwriters Laboratories in the electronics industry for over 100 years. Indeed, to argue otherwise is to assume that it was purely by chance that the industrial revolution occurred during an era when most of D.C.'s real estate was marshland.
One might think that the existence of such scares would serve as a reminder that many industries are perfectly capable of regulating themselves, and that those that do minimize moral hazard problems. Instead, they always are manipulated to expand federal control over private property, based on the ridiculous assumption that the cattle industry believes that it is in its long-term interests to market cattle in any condition if it can make a buck from it. Such a process, perhaps more than anything, explains the USDA's socializing effect on the agricultural industry.
This process played itself out again during the mad cow scare when Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman issued a new edict stating that farmers cannot slaughter for market "downer" cows (those that can't walk), a rule that the Wall Street Journal's Holman Jenkins noted will do nothing to reduce the incidence of mad cow disease. "A lame cow, in almost every instance, will not be one with mad cow," wrote Jenkins. "Likewise, the appearance of health is no proof that a cow hasn't come down with [mad cow disease]."
Nonetheless, Commissar Veneman's Soviet-like decree will serve other purposes. It will provide the false sense of security demanded by masses trained to look to government for such assurances. It will force smaller cattle operations out of the market, thus making the market less competitive and rewarding the political investments of the corporate farm lobby. It will also go far to advance the weakening of property rights of farmers that are crucial to the establishment of a free, functioning, and safe beef industry.
But it will do little to prevent future moral hazard problems from growing into crises, which is the expected result of any social system that weakens property rights over time. Until farmers in particular, and society in general, realize the cruelty of a faceless bureaucracy that claims the right to dictate the use of private assets (which, after all, is the basis of fascism), mad cow scares will continue to be one of the many side effects of a far larger disease.
Until then, mad socialism disease will prove a bigger threat to prosperity and peace, causing many more costs than those associated with mad cow, because property that is used in ways dictated by anyone but private owners is never used in ways that maximize its long-term or social value. Ignorance of this relationship explains many of the crises du jour that dominate the news and allows the disease to spread. A sound economic defense and application of property rights theory is the only proven antidote.
Christopher Westley, Ph.D., teaches economics at Jacksonville State University.
Food Safety Informaiton
How safe is our food? / Farmers, govt learn lessons of BSE outbreak
Fumiko Endo and Mikiko Miyakawa / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writers
This is the 11th installment of a series of articles on the safety of our food.
Residents of Saromacho, a Hokkaido town facing the Sea of Okhotsk, were shaken in 2001 by the news that the nation's first cow infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) had been born and raised in the area. At the same time, the discovery taught farmers a number of important lessons, and gave them the opportunity to review issues such as their relationship with customers.
In early February, the town was calm and peaceful as the area lay covered in snow after the heaviest snowfalls in about a decade.
But in September 2001, as the rest of the world was reeling from the shock of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, the town, with a population of 6,600, was in an uproar, with scores of reporters descending on it following the news that a 5-year-old cow born and raised there had been found infected with BSE--the first case in the nation.
"It was really unbelievable," said Masaaki Mitani, head of the livestock sales department of Japan Agricultural Cooperatives (JA) Saroma, recalling the BSE scare.
The country's first BSE case came 15 years after BSE--a brain-wasting disease caused by a self-replicating protein or prion--was first found in Britain. However, unlike in Europe, where the fatal human variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) believed caused by BSE has killed more than 100 people, there have been no reports of vCJD in Japan.
According to the World Organization for Animal Health, 26 countries and regions have reported cases of BSE, including cases involving imported cattle. In Japan, the 10th BSE case was confirmed on Feb. 22.
The Saroma-born cow was bought in 1998 by a farmer in Shiroi, Chiba Prefecture. After finishing its useful life as a dairy cow, it was slaughtered for beef. However, the cow, which was initially diagnosed as suffering from blood poisoning, was later determined to have been infected with BSE. Though the cow's meat was not shipped to the market, the remains of its body were processed into meat-and-bone meal (MBM). The product was later withdrawn from sale.
"When the first BSE case emerged, Saroma's industry was seriously damaged by rumors. Sales of products with the name of Saroma sharply declined, even sales of scallops and pumpkins," said Yoshinori Watanabe, subsection chief of the JA Saroma department.
According to JA Saroma, the market price for steers fell to below one-third its previous level after news of the BSE case broke.
The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry's committee of experts, which examined the infection route of BSE in Japan, was unable to determine the cause of infection. It said in its final report in September that the nation's BSE cases may have been caused by MBM made from cattle imported from Britain in 1982 and 1987 or by Italian-produced MBM imported before 1990.
The committee suggested that domestic cattle had been infected through eating such MBM, with the MBM made from such cattle leading to secondary infection. However, the definite infection route and source have yet to be specified.
"It's extremely difficult to determine the cause of infection," said Morikazu Shinagawa, head of the Prion Disease Research Center of the National Institute of Animal Health in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture. "This is because it involves not only scientific, but also various social factors."
The center was established in 2002 in the wake of the country's BSE outbreak.
Shinagawa suggested, however, that it was important to ban the import of products or cattle from countries where BSE cases have been reported. The outbreak of scrapie, a prion disease in sheep, in Japan in the 1970s is believed to have been caused by sheep imported from Canada, where the disease had been reported.
According to the farm ministry, all farmers who bred cows infected with BSE, except the recent 10th case still under investigation, have said they did not feed MBM to their animals.
"Farmers usually buy widely used mixed feed from feed companies," Mitani said.
After the ministry report was issued, two steers less than 2 years old were found to have BSE, indicating that they were born after the use of MBM was banned in Japan. The cause of their infection has yet to be determined.
Farmers puzzled by infection
This question is always on the mind of Kazumi Sasaki, 47, of Higashi-Mokotomura, a village near Abashiri, Hokkaido, after his cow was identified as the nation's second case of BSE in November 2001.
"We still don't know what caused BSE...or when we gave such feed (that might have caused it)," he said.
The BSE infection forced Sasaki to give up farming in Sarufutsumura, southeast of Wakkanai, at one stage, but he soon returned to the job he loves in Higashi-Mokotomura at the invitation of another farmer.
The BSE infection was a complete surprise for cow breeders.
"The government didn't take appropriate measures to prevent BSE infection. The government didn't think that BSE would be found in Japan," Sasaki said.
Even Shinagawa, a prion expert and then a professor at Obihiro University of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine, said he was very surprised by the news of the first BSE case as he had been told by the farm ministry that there was an extremely low risk of BSE infection in the country.
A report by experts on BSE infections in April 2002 held the ministry culpable for issuing an administrative order advising against MBM use in 1996 instead of imposing a total ban, as advised by the World Health Organization.
Asked by The Daily Yomiuri about the criticism, Toshiro Kawashima, assistant director of the ministry's Animal Health and Food Safety Division, said: "In response to the report's criticism of the adverse effects of the ministry's bureaucratic nature and sectionalism, we're promoting a food safety policy revolving around consumers."
Following the report of the first BSE case in the United States in December, Japan banned imports of U.S. beef and asked Washington to screen all U.S. cattle for BSE as a precondition for the lifting of the ban.
But the United States has not accepted Japan's demand, saying such screening is unscientific and aimed only at satisfying consumers' demands.
But Sasaki firmly believes the government must demand strict inspections of U.S. beef. "Consumers complain they can't eat gyudon (rice topped with seasoned beef), but BSE is a real disease. I'd like to ask consumers, 'Would you eat beef from infected cows?' Japan should make no concessions on importing U.S. beef at all," he said.
After a long struggle, Sasaki pointed to one benefit from his bitter lesson, saying, "The most important outcome from the BSE experience is that the barrier between farmers and consumers has been lowered."
But Sasaki is still worried about other farmers whose cows have been infected with BSE. "I wonder what they're doing now," he said.
New awareness of food safety
As for improvements after the BSE scare, Hori, 65, pointed to the testing of all slaughtered cattle and the traceability of cows from their birth to sale, saying such measures, imposed under newly-enacted BSE-related laws, had improved people's trust in Japanese beef.
Japan screens all cattle slaughtered for beef for BSE infection. Moreover, the screening of cows aged 2 or older that have died from diseases or accidents will be fully introduced in April. Testing already has been conducted in certain prefectures.
"Complete inspections make Japanese beef the safest in the world," Hori said.
Before the BSE infection came to light, farmers believed MBM improved the nutrition of dairy cows, which lose calcium through being milked and having calves.
"I think such phenomena as BSE are a punishment for people who violate the laws of nature. It's unnatural for animals that don't devour each other to make them do so (by feeding them MBM)," he said.
"In Japan, farmers sell milk at a price cheaper than even mineral water. Price competition forced dairy farmers to increase the amount of milk, so they sought high-protein feed," Hori said. He pointed out that if consumers were willing to buy milk at appropriate prices, farmers would be able to breed cows as nature intended, and not have to rely on feed such as MBM.
The BSE issue also influenced the way farmers thought about their job. Kimihiko Fujisawa, a 27-year-old farmer in Saromacho, said, "We have a duty to fulfill as farmers, and it's important to promote dialogue between producers and consumers."
Relationship with consumers
Tomita Farm in Okoppecho, near Monbetsu, Hokkaido, is one of many farms that accept guests, including students, who wish to learn about dairy farming.
Yasuo Tomita, the farm's owner, started producing cheese from his cows' milk and operating a farm inn two years ago. "I like to show my care for the dairy products I make and provide urbanites with a relaxing place to stay."
At Tomita's farm inn, guests can experience milking a cow like a regular farm worker--getting up at 5:30 a.m. to obtain fresh milk warm from the cows' teats.
By staying at a farm, city dwellers can gain a firsthand appreciation of the effort involved in the production of foodstuffs they normally take for granted.
Tomita, 54, said his 200 cows were raised on their mothers' milk, not on substitute milk powder, and he carefully examines the ingredients of the feed he gives to his cows.
"Previously, farmers simply grew their produce and sold it, and their job was done. Now, growers can't finish their job with a sale--they are responsible right through until the consumers eat the final product. Unless farmers grow products by paying close attention to consumers' needs, consumers won't buy their products," Watanabe of JA Saroma said.
film protects poultry from Campylobacter